OIT Staff at Saginaw VAMC Connect Veteran in Hospice Care to His Son
Office of Information and Technology (OIT) personnel at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities across the country don’t often get the chance to directly interact with Veterans. That’s because OIT is responsible for developing and supporting information technology (IT) tools and resources, which VA healthcare and benefits staff require to provide services directly to Veterans. The people in OIT staff are usually the behind-the-scenes “invisible partners” who deploy IT to enable VA staff on the front lines to serve Veterans.
But every now and then OIT staff have the honor to support Veterans face-to-face. In one touching and heart-breaking case at the VA Medical Center (VAMC) in Saginaw, Michigan, OIT personnel helped a Veteran in hospice care have one last conversation with his son incarcerated more than an hour away.
The Veteran had become increasingly ill and his daughter wanted him to have the opportunity to talk with his son one last time. She had previously contacted the prison to arrange a visit, and while sympathetic, authorities at the prison said they could not spare the two guards required to accompany the son to the VAMC. As a result, the visitation request was denied.
While on the palliative care unit, the Chief of Social Work at the VAMC heard about the daughter’s attempt to arrange the visit and brought the issue to OIT staff, who immediately mobilized, collaborated with the prison, and arranged the videoconference.
OIT staff went to the Veteran’s hospital room to set up the laptop, monitor, webcam, and other equipment. However, because of a scheduling error at the prison, the first attempt to conduct the videoconference didn’t go through. With the Veteran’s health deteriorating rapidly, his daughter quickly went to the prison to facilitate a second attempt later in the day. OIT staff again set up the videoconferencing equipment. And this time, the call was successful.
A Meaningful Connection
Having established the video connection, OIT staff left the room, and the social worker and nurse remained with the Veteran, who struggled to speak. At first, he could only respond to his son by squeezing the social worker’s hand, but then he mustered up the strength to move his arm, point his thumb to his heart, and get two very important words out: “Love you.” The Veteran passed away the following day.
Many people helped facilitate this meaningful moment, including dedicated VA and OIT staff who seized the opportunity to drive exceptional care and services for Veterans until the very end.
We can never repay the sacrifice of those who’ve volunteered their lives for this country, but at VA, we work every day to honor that sacrifice with the exceptional care and customer service our Veterans have earned.
Thanks to Joe Burzynski, Margaret Abbenante, and Glenn Stringer for contributing their recollections to the preparation of this story.